West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio called for police to toss her husband, Chuck, out of the City Hall auditorium Monday, after he confronted one of her critics at a commission meeting with whom he had a recent run-in.
Denis Coleman had just exercised his right to three minutes at the microphone, to criticize the Flagler Shore pilot program that has blocked cars from two traffic lanes to favor waterfront pedestrians and cyclists along Flagler Drive. Coleman, 72, a retired Bear Stearns vice president who lives at Trump Plaza, was one of many downtown residents who contended the project created an ugly waterfront and snarled traffic.
Coleman had a run-in with Chuck Muoio on Dec. 15, after taking issue with the mayor at a public input session on the waterfront and doing a bit too much finger pointing at the mayor for her husband to abide. After a brief nose-to-nose, captured on video by The Palm Beach Post, both backed off.
But on Monday night Coleman again spoke up. Those who pushed the pilot program did so without consulting the neighbors, he complained. “Flagler Drive is a community asset. It also is a neighborhood asset and the neighbors have not been involved.”
He noted that the mayor recently said publicly that even after the pilot program ends in March, having the street return to its original configuration was not an option.
“There’s an honest question about whether this is an honest process or it’s predetermined,” Coleman concluded and walked off as the three-minute buzzer sounded.
As the next speaker rose to the mic, there was noise in the back of the room. “Quiet!” the mayor demanded.
“Seth,” she called out, looking across the room to the police officer on duty, “will you get my husband out of here?”
Coleman, reached Tuesday, said he was almost out the exit when Chuck Muoio came up to within 2 feet of him.
“He says, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re the mayor’s husband.’ He said, ‘Do you want to step outside?’ ”
There was no way to interpret that other than he was threatening a fight, Coleman said.
“Absolutely. You have to take that together with our first meeting, a month ago, where he stepped in my face and said, ‘back off.’ What is that? We’re past grammar school.
“He had a friend who was holding him back,” Coleman continued, of Monday’s incident. “There was another friend on his right side, saying to me, “You’re a schmuck, you’re a schmuck, you’re a schmuck.”
Two officers promptly escorted Coleman out but let the mayor’s husband stay.
“Mayor Muoio keeps order during City Commission meetings,” the mayor’s spokesperson Kathleen Walter said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a rule that there are to be no loud conversations in the gallery during these meetings. She heard a loud conversation last night and asked for it to stop. Demonstrating that the rules apply to everyone, she has called out many people for talking during Commission meetings and will continue to do so.”
Chuck Muoio could not be reached for comment.
Coleman said he didn’t think he’d been rude, only that he’d expressed a critical opinion.
A number of residents did the same, including one woman who presented the mayor and commission with a petition signed by 600 opponents of the project.
Still others voiced support for the project, describing it as a bold experiment, if a work in progress, to shift gears away from the dominance of cars along the waterfront.
“Flagler Shore gives more value to our waterfront than just a right-of-way for cars,” said Juan Orellana, general manager at bicycle rental concessionaire SkyBike.
Jesse Bailey, president of Connect West Palm Beach, a nonprofit dedicated to “better public spaces,” commended the mayor and commissioners “for having the courage to try something out which is different.”
The program, which ends March 1, has already had the intended effect of slowing traffic and making the waterfront safer for children and others who use it, he said.
“We’ve been expecting too much from Flagler Shore,” Bailey said, adding that data from the project will help determine what works best. “At the end of day, this is a demonstration project.”